Only 8 Plagues Left???

It was hot this week—something we’re not used to. None of the buildings here have heating or cooling so we had to pull out some of our old Utah summer tricks—sleeping without blankets, keeping the blinds down during the heat of the day, opening the windows in the early morning and evening...

None of the windows have screens either. Ruby’s room and the laundry porch were flooded with tiny flies we’d never seen before.

Almost two months ago my ears perked up during Elder Gong’s talk in conference: “The book of Exodus relates how this deliverance came after plagues of frogs, lice, flies, the death of cattle, boils, blains, hail and fire, locusts, and thick darkness.”

Lice?? We’ve had lice! (I’d tried to decide if mold on the walls counted as a plague.) And now we’ve had flies.

Each of the kids decided in turn that it was their duty to get rid of the flies. We found them in one of those two rooms spraying copious amounts of vinegar or jumping around brandishing the fly swatter, or sometimes, pounding the walls or the window with just their hand.

It’s apparently the kind of game where once you get started, it’s hard to stop.

Moses decided to go surfing again. He’s been turning down Woo and Herbie’s invitations for months and months, but he seemed to decide it was what he needed to do to improve his relationship with his brother and dad (he’s been praying a lot to be one), and also decided the water wasn’t going to be *too* cold now.

We pushed back our school an hour and a half so those three could go surfing before it got too hot and too many people came out.

I was a little concerned because I’m a person who likes to do the work first thing in the morning and the play later, and I was afraid I’d lose everyone’s brains starting later, but I haven’t.

In fact, in at least one case it was better. Penelope and Archie read extra scriptures on their own(!?) while waiting and they were fantastic the entire class time. Archie worked harder and more diligently on school work that day than I’ve seen him work yet. After our classes he did a math assignment, a Portuguese test, and wanted to start his math test, even though it’s not due until next week, and got a few pages into that before it was time for lunch.

Speaking of reading extra scriptures... Ruby has been so happy, so willing to be a peacemaker... until Thursday. Then she was belligerent again. At the end of the day I went into her room to ask what had gone wrong. She sheepishly admitted that she hadn’t kept her goal to read her Doctrine and Covenants for 20 minutes every morning. And then she kept not doing it and not doing it...

I didn’t say anything else. It was enough for her to see the difference it made and she got back on track on Friday.

Ruby deep-cleaned her room, and then Moses, and then Herbie (who does it semi-frequently anyway). Penelope enthusiastically helped Ruby and then kept doing little things like clean out edges on the wash machine with a toothpick and dust the baseboard while I read stories.

Herbie has made a big jump in progress this week too. He’s been much more patient with his younger siblings and tries to get up and do something good first thing (besides read extra scriptures, which he also does), like set the table for breakfast or compliment someone.

He made a specific goal to not just stop arguing with Ruby, but to be her best friend. Like all new goals, there have been some setbacks, but every day has been a new day and he’s kept at it.

Linus has become the most excellently behaved student. He’s put on his primary face with a little smile, folds his arms almost constantly, and listens attentively. He gets to stay up for up to fifteen minutes for good behavior in class and this is extremely motivating for him.

One of the new classroom management things I started was to have all the kids meet in the entry with their supplies, and upon exactly following an instruction I give them, allow them into the living room to quietly start some copy work while the kids who weren’t exact get to try again.

Woo will often also do whatever I ask very enthusiastically, and by now everyone knows what is expected and does their best the first time. Usually I have them stand and give me a big smile or look directly at me or fold their arms or something like that.

Friday on a whim I said, “Please stand up, smile and say ‘Mother, I love you!’” which they all immediately did (including Woo) and I had to laugh because it was so ridiculous.

Two afternoons a week we’ve been trying to go on “Dad adventures”... for lack of a better name... the first one this week was not the kind of adventure you want to repeat.

The kids were all excited about our bike ride on Saturday and wanted to do that again. Woo, however, seemed like a bike ride was the last thing he wanted to do, but we got all the bikes out anyway.

As soon as the garage door went down, Herbie’s chain got jammed between the gears and the bike frame. It was many minutes before we freed that.

Then Ruby, who apparently still hadn’t gotten the hang of her brakes, went over the handlebars.

My pedal starting feeling weird. Herbie, who’d ridden the bike before, showed me how to kick it back into the bottom bracket. I did that a few times, but almost exactly at the halfway point of our ride, the entire crank fell off the bike.

There was no way to fix it there so I threw it in my pocket and said I’d ride home with one pedal, but I wasn’t very good at it. Woo traded me bikes after awhile, and he was able to ride it home okay.

But the next adventure was a success. It was very hot. Woo took us on a bit of a ride, a bit of a hike through sand, and to a very lightly populated beach. The kids loved it and were very, very high with their praise. Woo had a good time too, but that evening his back was sunburned and his arms were sore from throwing wet sand on a mound with Archie. The next day he napped.

Saturday we went on our longest ride yet. (This is the ride in the pictures.) We road on dirt roads through cabbage fields. Penelope was a good sport on her single speed. Archie was again terrified of dogs, but they were all behind fences.

And that’s our week! Hope yours was great!


Sun, Sand, Bikes and Ants

Finally! Nothing particularly noteworthy happened this week!

I took special care to make sure I was getting enough sleep—going to bed earlier than I thought and taking small (15-30min) naps when I had the chance.

I intentionally slowed down my thoughts and looked for things I could cut out. I did add one thing. I started going on my run alone instead of trying to get it in while the kids played in the parking lot.

I was tired Thursday evening, but that was the only time, and it was at the end of the day.

I was afraid of going to sleep too easily and waking up in the middle of the night, but one night I let myself fall asleep at 9pm, and I slept 10 hours straight!

I still enjoy the time I’m teaching the kids myself. Our longer classes near the end of the time slot were always satisfying and I felt the kids were each learning a lot. The shorter ones, near the beginning, with more class participation, had more class participation than I would like. Sometimes it was difficult to keep order.

I googled a few classroom management techniques and those worked very well. Class behavior became pretty close to perfect. Moses told me he learned more too.

I had questioned the value of reading Shakespeare with the kids myself, but this week I realized it was exposing the kids to ideas of noble gentlemanly and ladylike behavior—a thing that I had not expected, but that I am all for.

The temple activity was a flop, but I have ideas to try again next week.

The naturalist outing is still good. Woo and all the kids, except Ruby (who was drawing plants), spent over half an hour watching an ant hill. It’s not like we’ve never seen an ant hill before, but now we’re slowing way down and looking much closer.

I noticed for the first time that while the line of ants moves with purpose, if you concentrate on any one ant, they’re an idiot—backtracking, bumping into others, getting lost at times... very few appear to be carrying anything at all... (although I’m sure there are things too tiny for me to see).

It occurred to me that mankind (or the church) must be much like an ant colony. It also would explain why a message we so often get is to just keep on going—keep going as straight ahead as we know how.

We have never bought face masks, but they’re required to enter any store here. Woo and I grocery shopped last time in buffs pulled over our noses. I hated pulling mine up every few seconds so this week I decided to wear a mask Moses had made back in February in his science class out of a paper towel and rubber bands. (I’d scoffed at it at the time.) Woo was still wearing his buff, but when we got to the store they wouldn’t let him in. They said it was inadequate, but masks were for sale in the store. My paper towel passed the test (even though it felt like it was going to disintegrate under a few minutes of my breathing), so I ran in to buy him one. (Our shopping excursions are a two cart ordeal, and his presence was necessary.)

I searched and searched, but found nothing. There were also no employees around to ask. I was about to ask a cashier when I saw a box on the stand right in front of him. So I waited in line. Woo was staring at me through the window. Waiting. Waiting.

I finally got close enough to pick up the box, but it was completely empty. I asked and they were all sold out, so I ran out to Woo to tell him. At that moment, he remembered he had a face mask he’d bought at the hardware store when we first moved here. It was still in the van. He ran to get it and the guy at the front door let us in.

To change up our outside time, I took the kids on bike rides in a park with a long trail and let them loose. Except Archie, I followed behind him. I followed at a distance because he and Penelope wanted to be on an adventure of their own. I couldn’t help thinking that in a perfect world they’d be out alone, exploring the neighborhood together, stopping in a vacant lot, climbing trees, riding their bikes over dirt hills... and I was a tiny bit sad they didn’t have that.

But they still had a ton of fun and Woo even found a new bike for Archie near the end of week. It had bigger wheels so he could keep up with Penelope better, and a bell (which is always a hit). They were both pleased.

One of Moses and Linus’s favorite games lately is to plan their adult life together. They’ve decided how many kids to have, their names, what kind of activities they’ll do as a family, where they’ll live. They talk a lot about what their house will be like and they each built one out of legos. Linus is positive that he’s going to be a dentist and he built this dental office.

Moses is still undecided on his career and it bothers him a bit. But his house is all planned!

Penelope and Archie also worked on a drawing of their shared duplex when they grow up. One door says PF for Penelope’s family and the other says AF for Archie’s family.

Both Linus and Moses decided they were going to marry someone “like Mom.” I was duty bound to warn them that in reality they would marry someone who was much better than me in some things, but also worse than me in others, and that would be okay.

One of our favorite family jokes is that Moses will marry a fantastic cook, who will delight in fattening him up. (Another is that Ruby will marry someone with a completely absurd last name—and we all take a couple of stabs at what that might be.) I like to think that Linus will marry someone who takes better care of her makeup, hair and dress than I do.

One night Linus hadn’t been in bed ten minutes before he ran down crying because he was “having bad dreams about death!”

I gave him a hug until he stopped crying, and suggested he get a drink of water when he stopped. Then we each said a prayer together and he ran back up to bed.

In the morning he was so excited to tell me that he’d prayed more by himself when he’d gone to his room and that he’d had the most wonderful feeling while he prayed. He had recently been reading Alma the younger’s conversion story and he said that he thought of the words “exquisitely sweet” and that was what it was like.

He never wanted to forget that feeling and wrote a note on his door that says: don’t forget my happy feeling.

Moses had a similar experience with night time prayer just a couple days before and when they got up in the morning, they decided that they were going to try as hard as they could all week to “be one.”

They did a wonderful job that first day and incrementally worse from there. But at times they were fantastic, not only with themselves, but their other siblings too.

This was Ruby’s last week of seminary and she also did a lot of make up work because she started late in the year (and also didn’t quite understand what was going on in the beginning?) She’s caught up now.

She’s writing a dictionary with Archie as they make up their own language—Ruchie.

Herbie’s face has gotten very brown from floating around in the ocean with the sun reflecting into his face. He has a nice wetsuit line too. He didn’t do the best work on his packet last week, because he was trying to zip through it so he could go surfing.

For example, he didn’t know what an ingredient was for his science experiment, but didn’t email his teacher until the end of the week. When she answered that he could have a few more days to finish, he was happy, but then turned in the instructions with the rest of his packet... whoops.

Woo had him finish that right away and also do better work on his other packet work before taking him out surfing again.

Woo had a busy fix-it Saturday. First he went to the Chinese store in his saw-dust-protective face mask. He did buy 3 actual face masks (a pretty floral one for me), a new shower curtain rod (ours had snapped the afternoon before), and several miscellaneous things for a spring bike tune up.

He put up the new rod, and then he, Herbie, Moses and Linus spent a couple of hours downstairs in the garage tuning up and fixing all our in-need-of-fixing bikes.

This week we read Alma 26:28 as a family. Both Woo and I had written a list in our notes for the phrase “every privation.” Mine was pretty short. It only had two things: inconsistent hot water and lack of furniture. Woo’s list was much longer, but they were all true. It made us laugh. One thing on his list was riding rusty, old bikes.

Anyway, when they were done tinkering, we ate lunch, fielded a big argument between Ruby, Herbie and Moses over some honey coated cashews, Woo spent over an hour fixing a bathroom sink, and then we went on a bike ride!

Ruby dropped a chain about two pedals in and thinking her bike was broken forever, refused to go any further. I switched her bikes and sent her ahead while I fixed the chain, during which Moses crashed. There were a handful of near crashes while Ruby figured out the brakes on the other bike.

And THEN we had a nice bike ride... until Penelope crashed and Archie became terrified of being chased by dogs... but then after that, there were no problems at all. As we were nearing home, Ruby even asked if we could do the same thing every Saturday.

And that’s our week. Hope yours was great!


The Sun Will Come Out Tomorrow

Oliver Twist, surprisingly, became one of our best subjects this week. Most days went very well. Monday, actually, was awesome. Looking back on it at night, I couldn’t remember any contention.

We also had a fun adventure with a bird flying into the kitchen. Woo was able to gently trap it in a towel and release it on the balcony where it flew away without problems—yay!

But Thursday was the worst. (How long is this “last battle” supposed to last???) Also, Thursday’s always seem to be our worst days lately.

It started well, actually. I’d gotten a few additional hints the night before on how to increase my ability to receive personal revelation and I was doing those, getting little tidbits here and there.

However, Herbie and Moses were on an accelerated downward spiral and eventually embroiled themselves in such a petty, small argument that it disrupted our whole class.

At that point, class was over, so that was good. I didn’t yell or threaten or even get mad, also good. But neither did I do any of the good child management techniques I’ve learned over the years. I had nothing. I was tired... so tired... I needed a break.

I separated Herbie and Moses to their respective rooms, left the kids at home with Woo (working), didn’t take anyone outside to the parking lot, but walked to the school to exchange packets. I walked so it would take longer. I needed time alone.

And then when I came home, I laid in bed for quite awhile with a pillow over my head. I really wanted to go to sleep, but it didn’t come. The kids were very subdued at that point. Honestly, I think it’s good for mom to have a bit of a break down occasionally (not every day! ... unless there’s a good reason, I guess... ) so they can reassess the consequences of their actions and see that other people are also effected by them.

I was able to call Herbie and Moses in individually to talk after that. They were sincere about changing. (And luckily they have been.)

I picked up our day by reading the kids our post lunch break book (Journey to the River Sea—lots of fun for everyone), and mostly had a normal day from there, except that it was raining so we couldn’t go outside. And I was still tired, so tired... The kids did their own thing while I went into Linus’s room for privacy and prayed and cried almost that whole hour and a half we normally go to the parking lot.

That really got to the kids too (not that that was my purpose... that would be manipulative, which is dumb... ) and several of them gave me hugs and apologized for little things they’d done during the day when I came out.

I felt like a broken woman, but I did gradually receive ideas and tweaks to improve what needed improving in our day, and the next day is always a new day and a new start, thank goodness. What a difference a good nights sleep always makes!

Ruby, on the other hand, is a changed woman. She’s cheerful so much more often now, I sometimes can’t believe it. Thursday I ate dinner, then went to lie down again and Ruby cleared all the table herself (a job I normally do, but that Ruby, Herbie and Woo have increasingly been helping me with, and that I was going to get up and do in just a couple minutes). It was very nice of her. (Although, her earlier teasing of Moses and accidental breaking of Herbie’s earphones almost certainly contributed to their clash that morning.)

One of the little changes I decided on was to head back into “the wilderness” for a nature hike. I had a bunch of sketchbooks from the kids’ travel kits still and I packed those and some pencils for the kids to draw and diagram some of their observations.

Penelope was thrilled with this new activity. She was generous with her praise on the walk in and talked constantly on the way back, fully envisioning herself as growing up into a true naturalist. She was highly influenced by our recent reading. Naturalists play a significant role in Journey to River Sea and before that we read Hatchet (slightly edited) together.

All the kids were more enthusiastic about it than I thought they’d be. Even Herbie, who hates to draw spent significant time drawing fine details and labeling a plant he’d found.

Woo no longer has to be with us when we go outside (although I still can’t send the kids by themselves to the park), but he went with us and taught the kids a bit about plants. He noticed a wild garlic or onion which Moses tasted and dissected after drawing it and found it to indeed be an onion.

Woo also suggested I could find some neat naturalist journals of Darwin, Muir or other early biologists to let the kids look over and get a better idea of what was noted and why. I thought this was a great idea, but I haven’t showed the kids any yet.

I had the kids document two things (Penelope did three), then we let the kids just explore. Linus found some giant beetles; Ruby found our first snake we’ve seen here (Archie was frightened and came to sit by me); Moses found hornets and tried to catch some lizards; and all the kids (and Woo) figured out how to get on top of a group of abandoned buildings.

It was just the change of pace we needed.

Archie was sick a day or two this week. When that was over he had many bloody noses, and then after that he stayed up one night making a fort out of his bed instead of sleeping. He threw a few tantrums that next day.

It felt like years since he’d thrown a tantrum... since anyone had thrown a tantrum... I’d forgotten all my tantrum defusing tricks. But I regained them on about tantrum two or three.

Penelope finished the whole Chronicles of Narnia this week. She’s been participating with some skill in Moses and Linus’s Narnia quiz games and even playing legos with them (she’s usually not that into legos) when the play is Narnia related.

One of my new ideas for our week included a temple activity during the time we’d normally go to the temple. I told Linus first and he was super excited. Like jumped and down and said, “YAY!”

A few weeks ago I spake in our family sacrament meeting and spoke only of the miracles surrounding the building of the Freiburg Germany temple. Linus loved that talk and is expecting this to be similar.

Archie announced he had a talk in primary today and then gave a very good one about how he lost patience putting together a Lego set once and threw away the instructions and his truck looked terrible. Then he did a very good job drawing the parallel how if we lose patience in life and don’t follow the instructions (commandments) our finished product is not going to be as good as we’d hoped it would be. I was impressed.

Anyway, here’s to hoping our next week is better! And I hope yours was great!


Here We are Together, Together, Together

We fasted again to know our next steps for the future, specifically to get a clear answer. And we did get a clear answer. It was...
Continue as you are until further directed.
So that’s what we’re going to do.

I loved my time teaching the kids for an hour and a half every morning. I am learning things too. I was very happy with all the books I’d chosen to teach from except our literature book. I’d picked a book of excerpts from Charles Dickens’ books aimed at children, but the excerpts were disjointed and odd. I decided to just read straight Oliver Twist. I’d hoped to read a Dickens book I hadn’t already read, but in the end I decided Oliver Twist would be their best start, and the first reading was... horrible!

Part of it is was that first chapter and a half is rough going, but most of it was that it wasn’t our best morning no matter what we did. Linus was especially belligerent and ruined for everyone else any good feelings they may have been holding on to.

Penelope and Archie were eager to learn and be good students from the start. Ruby tried to stand up and leave the first morning, but she never got around the corner. Reading poetry was a lot more enjoyable than any of the kids would’ve guessed. She walked back into the room with a sheepish smile and never tried to leave again.

Really, since her blessing right after conference, Ruby had been one of the biggest advocates of anything I’m trying to do.

Herbie swore he didn’t learn anything our first German lesson—he already knew it all. But in further questioning it was revealed that he had learned several things—every single verb I used. By the second lesson he was willing to admit that he was learning new things.

Moses’s oral summary of Joseph leaving Potiphar’s wife was clever and funny. I laughed quite a bit myself.

I thanked Penelope for being such a good student and she said, “That’s because I like it! Are we doing geography tomorrow! Yay!!”

Our geography book is fantastic. I think it’s all the kids’ favorite. In the first lesson I learned things about the cardinal directions that I’d never fully understood before. It’s so simple, but for some reason I’d never been taught correctly? Or something? Maybe it was just me? Anyway, I get it now, and so do all the kids.

Archie is doing great, he is definitely following what we’re reading. The only difference for him so far is that when I read passages out loud and have the kids write them (to work on grammar, spelling, punctuation...), Archie just copies it while looking at it. He has quite a ways to go in terms of spelling and is still working on things like the proper spacing between words.

I tried to get Penelope to do copywork to start too, but she was offended, started crying, and was determined to show me that she could do what the older kids were doing too.

There are things I can’t teach all the kids at once. Math, for example. Also science. Ruby and Archie are no where near the same level in those. At this point, I’m glad to have the packets and broadcasts for the kids to work on individually.

Moses was stressed as his math teacher, who we hadn’t heard from at all, suddenly emailed in a boatload of exercises a couple days before the packets were due back. He finished them about an hour before I biked over to the school to make the switch.

We did have a couple of other snags with the packet. Ruby’s French teacher wanted her to watch an R-rated movie and write a new ending. One of Herbie’s teachers based a question on a TV show we’d never seen or heard of. Herbie had a math question asking him to find the area of a blue shape on a black and white printed page. Sometimes they emailed the teacher, sometimes they just did the best they could.

We seemed to have gotten the perfect amount of work for the older kids, but the second week of packets have hardly anything in them. We think this is a reflection of how school is going for everyone in the school, not just for us.

We didn’t get Linus’s work until Thursday, and there was a bit of a misunderstanding with Penelope’s teacher, but we got it figured out. Next week should be better, and the amount of work the younger kids are getting seems to be constant. Just 5-6 more school weeks!

We had another poetry recital. Linus has been working the most diligently on the poems and the new proclamation. He memorized them all! He earned extra cookies for being able to do the entire proclamation. The rest of the kids and I only know parts of it. (Moses knows the first few and the last few paragraphs—those middle paragraphs are long!)

The missionaries suggested that we plant some dried beans after they left us their spiritual thought on faith. When they followed up, we hadn’t done it, but the kids really wanted to. After the missionaries signed out, Woo suggested we plant our beans outside. He knows how much I dislike a bunch of leaky cans, yogurt or paper cups full of dirt littering the kitchen.

The kids really took to that idea and planted a bean or two all along the path in the park. Then in the patch of weeds and bushes near the parking lot, every single one of them cleared a little patch of dirt; lined it with stones; planted beans, apple cores, potato eyes and onion parts; and watered them every day. It’s been their favorite place to be all week.

Several of Herbie’s beans sprouted on Friday. Moses could only see one of his sprouting, but he dug up some others to confirm they were sprouting too. He was so excited.

Penelope and Archie worked together as a team and were proud of their joint venture.

The imaginative play theme of the week has been Narnia. Moses and Linus were usually twin princes Trinian and Rilian. Archie was a centaur, Penelope was a servant at times, a princess at others.

Herbie and Woo were able to surf a few times. The waves were not great, but they weren’t going to be picky.

Woo got us out of the house on a rainy Saturday by suggesting a driving adventure. First we spent 15 minutes pumping up the front tire. We all took a turn, but Woo did most the work, like he always does.

He entertained us by taking us down a bunch of random dirt roads in the forest and acting like the tire would lose all its air at any moment (it never did). We came out of the forest at Praia D’El Rey, a lovely place that everyone single one of us (but Woo, who has his reasons) wished was our home in Portugal.

The sun came out when we left the car to check out the deserted beach and look over a golf course, which the kids had never seen before and were fascinated by the pair of golfers we saw.

Every kid asked me if we could move there either while we were there or when we came home. I don't think it's any place special, mostly it was the appearance. We’re staying here until we’re supposed to leave, but there’s a strong desire to live in a nicer and more beautiful place. The whole little village was extremely alluring to us.

Sometimes on Saturday mornings Herbie does all the dishes, sets the table and gets out everyone's cereals (or makes a pot of rice when they're out of cereal) before we get up and read.

Morning scriptures

And that’s our week. Hope yours was great!